“DEC. 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy …”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt said these words many years ago.
Today, Dec. 7 might mean one less shopping day until Christmas, but it means something else to the Greatest Generation that fought World War II.
The debate over whether Roosevelt knew of the impending attack on the Pacific fleet that was bottled up in Pearl Harbor didn’t matter to my mom, Claire Neal.
Claire’s cousin, Jack Abernathy, got bombed at Pearl Harbor.
That got her Irish up.
It was payback time for Tojo! There was a war on!
Mom could see the need for long-range strategic bombers in the island-hopping campaign in the Pacific.
She found a sleepy little airplane factory down along the Duwamish River in Seattle.
At one point in the war, she was rolling a B-17 Flying Fortress out the door every 49 minutes to support my dad (Duane Neal, U.S. Navy) and Uncle Len (Leonard Neal, U.S. Marine Corps) fighting in the Pacific.
On Nov. 1, 1943, Uncle Len landed in heavy surf on Bougainville with the 3rd Marine Corps to face an estimated 35,000 tough, veteran Japanese troops of the 6th Division of the Imperial Japanese Army infamous for the Rape of Nanking.
Meanwhile, Mom was determined to march north and secure an airbase that was within bombing range of Tokyo.
The rugged 30-mile-long island of Guam was ideally suited for the Japanese defenders when a combined force of U.S. Army and Marine veterans of Guadalcanal came ashore July 21, 1944, in a battle that continued in isolated pockets until the end of the war.
The last Japanese soldier on Guam did not surrender until 1972.
Dad ran an airfield on Guam for Mom’s bombers to conduct reconnaissance and bombing missions.
Once Uncle Len’s Marines had secured Bougainville, he headed north to help Gen. Douglas MacArthur return to the Philippines, where an estimated quarter-million Japanese troops were waiting under the command of Gen. Yamashita, the “Lion of Malaya.”
On Oct. 23, 1944, an estimated ton of explosives was fired ashore for every man going to the beachhead with MacArthur at Leyte.
Uncle Len’s invasion force was saved from annihilation by Japanese battleships by Dad’s Navy in the three-day Battle of Leyte Gulf that wiped out the Japanese Imperial Fleet.
As Dad and Uncle Len’s island-hopping offensive drew closer to the Japanese home islands, both sides refined their tactics to more horrifying, desperate measures.
Adm. Takijiro Onishi sent bomb-laden fighter planes to crash into American ships.
Named after the Divine Wind that scattered the Mongol fleet of 1281, the Kamikaze became one of the most effective weapons the Japanese used as a defense against the U.S. Navy.
By 1945, Mom was building the larger B-29 bomber.
On March 10, 1945, 350 of her B-29s dropped 2,000 tons of magnesium, phosphorous and napalm on Tokyo, incinerating 16 square miles and killing 100,000 people.
It remains the single deadliest attack ever inflicted on a civilization.
Despite these heavy casualties, the Japanese military continued a fanatical but hopeless defense.
That was until Mom’s B-29 bombers dropped two atomic bombs on Japan.
Mom built that bomber fleet, riveting them together in 8-foot sections one plane at a time until the war was over and there was peace.
After the war, Mom, Dad, Uncle Len and Cousin Jack went on to create the post-war boom in America.
Claire never let on that she was a war hero.
Just another patriotic American teenager doing her part to bomb the Axis powers back to the hell they came from.
Thanks, Mom, from a proud son and a grateful nation.
Pat Neal is a fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.
He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal [email protected].